Like smearing on black eyeliner or cuing up anything by The Cure, reading Colleen Curran’s first novel, Whores on the Hill, will take the reader way back. It is the late ’80s, and three naughty Catholic schoolgirls are beginning sophomore year at Sacred Heart Holy Angels, an all-girls school in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Though she was a shy girl during her freshman year at another school, sensitive Thisbe quickly falls in with brazen Astrid and exotic Juli. She razors her strawberry blonde bangs, laces up a pair of knee-high combat boots and begins to speak again. Days are spent at Sacred Heart in “uniform punk” while bitching about classmates, boys and absent fathers, quoting Prince and Protagoras, and chain-smoking under a statue of the Virgin Mary.

At night, the girls are joyfully promiscuous and unperturbed by the whispered slurs that follow them through parties and clubs. Guided and haunted by the legend of Deb Scott (now presumed dead but still the fiercest girl ever to attend Sacred Heart), they are “a million nerve ends electric with appetite and not afraid.” Everything is going a bit too smoothly for the triad when Thisbe falls in love for the first time and the friendship is irreparably damaged by Astrid’s jealousy. The resulting conflict begins a chain of events with some surprising twists and ends with the destruction of Sacred Heart.

It seems likely that Whores on the Hill found its beginnings in personal reminiscence since the author’s own teen years were spent in a Milwaukee suburb. Despite or perhaps due to its personal nature, the story she pens is as universal as a journal entry and accurately represents the high school experience of teenage girls for the last 20 years. The characters leap right out of an old yearbook, girls you may not have known but definitely heard about. Readers will find that Curran captures the intensity of the teen years with an immediacy that feels more like memory than fiction.

Katherine Cho reviews books for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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